Iranian students in US hoping nuke deal helps cash flow

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news briefing after Iran and world powers agree in Geneva to a deal over Iran's nuclear program, at the Presidency compound in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013 Mohammad Berno / AP file

By Ali Weinberg, NBC News

When 23-year-old Morteza Nazari arrived at the Detroit Airport in August from his native Iran, he carried $15,000 in cash — becasue sanctions barred him from withdrawing money from his home country’s bank once in the United States.

It wasn’t fun, recalled Nazari, a first-year graduate student in the University of Michigan’s public policy program.

“I was always worried — oh my God, all this money on me,” he said.

And now that he’s here, getting money sent from home involves multiple middlemen who take big cuts of the transactions.

Nazari and other Iranian students in the United States are hoping that the nuclear deal reached between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany (P5+1) will help loosen such restrictions and give way to an easier flow of funds.

The interim deal announced Saturday does include $400 million in tuition assistance to be transferred “from restricted Iranian funds directly to educational institutions in third countries,” per the U.S. State Department, although details of how and to whom the money will be distributed are still being worked out.

But while most of the deal’s approximately $7 billion in sanctions relief is relatively insignificant when compared to Iran’s huge annual deficits, freeing up money for Iranian students abroad – of which there are about 8,700 in the United States, per the Institute of International Education – could have substantial and far-reaching effects.

Alireza Nader, an Iran expert at the RAND Corporation, said making money more readily available to Iranian students would be a political boon for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who largely appealed to younger Iranians in his campaign.

“This could help build more political support outside of groups like the Revolutionary Guards,” Nader said, referring to the military corps founded after the 1979 Islamic Revolution that has become a powerful socio-economic-political counterweight to elected officials there.

An offshoot of the Guard, the Basij Resistance Force, actually offers loans and scholarships to Iranians who participate in monthly training, according to a 2009 RAND study that Nader co-wrote. “I don’t think [Rouhani] is crazy about the Revolutionary Guards having so much power in Iran,” Nader said.

Highlighting the deal’s benefits for Iranian students is a way for Rouhani to demonstrate to the youth that he is staying true to his campaign promises.

Perhaps coincidentally, Rouhani’s camp this week released a video to commemorate his first 100 days in office that mimics the artfully-shot “Yes We Can” clip from President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Asked what they hoped for out of the P5+1 negotiations, many Iranian students said easier transfer of funds topped their list.

Mohammed Hamedi Rad, a second-year PhD student at the University of Illinois, said he’s relied on friends traveling from Iran to the United States to ferr funds over to him since he arrived in the United States last year.

“Our friends that are coming here bring cash for us which is a very inefficient and dangerous process,” he said in an email.

Nazari, from the University of Michigan, who is politically active and says he campaigned for Rouhani in the last election, said he noticed an “atmosphere of hope” among his fellow Iranian students on campus since the deal was announced.

“I think by having this deal and having future negotiations that follow this deal, it will definitely affect Iranian students and embolden Iranian society,” he said.

But even as he is hopeful that relations between Iran and the rest of the world thaw, he plans to return to his home country once he finishes his studies, in order to put his master’s degree in public policy to use.

“Definitely,” he said. “We have lots of work to do.”


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